Archive for the “What I’m doing” Category

2014 is about over; here are my thoughts on the year.

1.  My life is awesome!

These are surely the “good ol’ days” for me.  I have had a great, fun life but these years will be the best when I think back (if what I hear from retired folks is true).  If I am wrong, then I can’t wait for what is next.

I love my kids so much!  People who say such things as “you can never pay your parents back for all the things they’ve done for you”….they are wrong.  My kids owe me nothing.  I owe them.  It is truly my pleasure….

I love my wife!  I never realized how many things I was not good at until I got married….and now my wife helps me with them!  She helps me find things.  She washes and folds my clothes.  She helps raise my kids.  She puts up Christmas decorations.  She shops for me at Costco.  She helps me try new things all the time that I wouldn’t have tried…and I like them sometimes.  Without her, I don’t think my life would nearly as awesome.

I can tolerate my job!!  And that is pretty awesome!  The whole “follow your passion” is not great advice, since it is difficult to implement in a helpful way.  My job is challenging (and stressful), pays my bills (but never pays enough), and I am getting skills that can’t be outsourced or automated.  That is about what you/I can hope for from work.  Those who expect a job to be meaningful:  I would suggest if your life lacks meaning…don’t look for it at work.

I make a difference!  I am surrounded by people (family, friends, job) who depend on me, watch me, need me.  I am comfortable with that responsibility; it has it’s rewards.  People who feel like they aren’t making a difference or that their life is meaningless….here is some advice:  Step up and take some more responsibility.  In my experience, people are more than willing to give it to you.

YOUR LIFE IS LIKELY AWESOME TOO!  All of our lives are beset by problems.  Everyone works hard.  All of us deal with difficult people.  No one can remember their passwords.  We would all appreciate more sleep.  Everyone has aches and pains as they age.  There is still some pretty good awesomeness tucked away in life despite those things.

2.  What are my goals?

My goal is “more of the same”!

Uninspiring?  Unfocused?  I don’t think so.

I want to raise my kids well, keep a job, and maintain my relationship with my wife.  Those are things I’m already doing, but that can change at any time, so I’m thankful it is working out right now.

I had specific goals when I was younger:  Travel, learn a second language, get an MBA, get a job in consulting.  I did those things.  I think goals are more applicable when you are young.

I believe in staying true to values:  Be helpful, work hard, stay positive, keep family first, be thankful.  If I do those things, the right opportunities will come up.

3.  Share the best of myself, not the worst.  I accept this as a responsibility.

When I was younger I thought people who were always positive and happy were fake.  That’s not true at all.

People who are positive and happy are considerate.  Of course you aren’t happy all the time, but it helps others almost all the time if you put on a good face and meet the day with a smile.  That is how you can be most helpful to them…by having a pleasant interaction with people….By putting a positive spin on the events of your life and letting others hear that example.  That kind of person is good to be around.  And as a fortunate byproduct, those kind of people tend to make their own luck.

Keeping it real is not good.  Share and say things that are helpful to others.  Keep the rest to yourself (and your closest friends if you really need help).  Sharing and saying things that are helpful to others is a practiced habit improved through years of diligence.  I work at it everyday; review my actions and words to make sure I’m interacting in the most helpful, positive ways.  Share the best of yourself, not the worst.

I think all that is my responsibility, and I accept it.  (I am not, by nature, a positive person, so this is a challenge to me.)

4.  Accept that I need help.

The more responsibility I accept, the more important and meaningful my life becomes, the more awesome my life becomes, the more help I will need to maintain it.  That is a fundamental insight.

There is far more to do than I can ever hope to get to.  I have to prioritize where I spend my time, and get help for everything else. I often pay for that help in the form of lawn care or housekeeping or daycare for the kids.  I try to pay others for everything I can afford that makes sense (for instance I can’t pay others to exercise for me or do my professional work).

I also ask my friends for lots of advice…on finances, on work, on childcare, on anything.  Seeking only my own counsel is not smart.

Receiving help from others requires me to be honest with myself about what I am good at and willing to accept my limitations (or at least acknowledge them).  I have a responsibility to make myself easy to help.

5.  Accept life is risky.

The more responsibility I accept, the more important and meaningful my life becomes, the more awesome my life becomes, the more risk my decisions bear.

It is easy to take risks as an individual because you are the only one that bears the consequences.  However, your life is limited in scope if your decisions only affect you, and so your life is not as awesome as it could be.

What I need to work on is accepting that risk and accepting that those I am responsible for (professionally, and personally) must, by default, accept some of that risk as well.  When I take on risk, they also take on risk.  And I need to be ok with that and move forward.

As a leader, I think we instinctively understand this even if it is difficult.  What is not as intuitive is that, as followers (which we all are as well), we have a responsibility to understand, and accept, the leader’s dilemma.

So, 2014 was great.  I hope 2015 will be too.

Accept responsibility.  Practice life being awesome.  We’ll likely succeed.


(Real picture I took over xmas break)


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My grandfather is dying.  That stinks and I love him and its really hard on my family and my mom today asked me if I wanted to speak at the funeral.

Of course I said.  Its my place I think to say something as I was one of those that knew him best…at least as a grandfather.

Now I’m thinking, “What exactly do you say at your grandfather’s funeral”?

I could google it….and for anyone that knows me or reads the website….I google everything.  You can almost always get good information.  I googled songs for my wedding.  I google recipes, places to eat, etc.

But I won’t.  In this case, I don’t think it matters what makes a good speech at a funeral.  I’m not trying to make a good speech….i’m trying to make MY speech about MY grandfather.

I remember when Marc Whitfield was killed; they talked about the honor of serving as a policeman, but to me that was about police….not about Marc.

And I don’t think the speech is to the other people at the funeral…some lesson learned about death, or the importance of those still alive that we love.  I’m not moralizing to the attendees.  That doesn’t matter much and I’m not the person to do that.

In the end, I’m not sure there is much to be learned from death?  It happens.  It may point out some things about life, but death itself is pretty mundane, final, and self-explanatory.

I think I will speak to him directly; it is for him and my family.   Say something nice about how much I loved him; tell a funny story I remember growing up with him.

I’m not religious, but if he can hear…he knew how much I loved him….and it never hurts to hear it again.

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I went home for the weekend and saw some old friends.  Jason had a party at his new house.  I hadn’t seen most of those people since college or a little after.  Everyone is always the same mostly, except a little heavier, a little more wrinkled, a little less willing to get piss drunk (myself included).  I talked a lot about people’s kids and their marriage.  I liked it for the most part.

I wore a Halloween costume I last wore in graduate school in 2001 I think.  Its a pimp outfit with leather pants, a white fedora, and a really tight shiny shirt.  Its ridiculous but fun.  I was still able to get into the pants, but I couldn’t button the shirt anymore…not even close.  In fact, I wonder how I ever got into it.

Jason seemed good.  Its strange that so many of my friends are divorced now.  Actually, I guess its just two of them that are…but hey, how many close friends can someone have?  Two is actually a large percentage.

The next night I went to see Josh after shopping all day with my mom.  I bought this really cool piece of furniture that I don’t really need.

I’m going to use it as a TV stand because I can’t figure out any other place to put it.

Anyway, Josh was good.  His kids are super cute.  He was really drunk by the time I got there at 7 having watched the Clemson game.  You know he’s drunk when he starts talking about how good we were at basketball.  I admit its a fun conversation, since we were pretty good…but let’s face it:  I couldn’t throw a basketball in the ocean now…and if I could I’d probably hurt my back doing it.

I used to swear up and down I’d never have the “used to be” conversation, but now that I’m older I see why people have it.  Its like a fish story…it gets better every time you tell it.  You can forget the defeats and remember the victories…embellish here and there.  No one remembers the score anyway, right?  I did dunk on someone in a game one time though.  That’s true: Wes Jackson, I remember.  (Ok, the goal was about 2 inches short of 10 feet, but that’s just a detail to forget next time I tell the story).

Anyway, its weird to go home sometimes and think about all that stuff.  Honestly it seems like it all happened to another person.  Traveling sort of cut my life in half, and the first half is pretty distant sometimes….especially 10 beers in.

I guess I’m thinking about all this today because I went home for the weekend and got a message from some folks on Facebook today that made me think about some things I haven’t thought about in years.

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The last month hasn’t been the best.  I’ve been working at least one day each weekend and 60+ hours each week; I’ve been back and forth to the West coast twice.  I have early morning calls with India and evening calls with the West coast.  I’m just tired.

I have work on my house I have to do, but I can’t get time.  I have to stain my deck, put up a light, pressure wash the side of my house, and paint my shutters.

I’ve talked about all this before; in fact…..the feeling that I go from one thing to the next, never resting….probably describes most of the US.  I should stop complaining.

Regardless, it is bad for your health.  Stress isn’t so bad, but long hours, a lack of exercise, and spotty sleep do take their toll…especially lack of exercise.  I don’t have time to play tennis; those two hours in the evening I used for exercise are now taken up by work or chores or whatever.

On another note, I went to see the Indigo Girls in concert last night.  They are really one of my favorite bands, and I’m happy to report they are simply awesome in concert….perfect.  Its amazing that so much sound can come from two guitars and two voices.  I loved it.

Indigo Girls at Chastain Park 9-13-2008

Hopefully in the next few weeks things will return to normal…whatever that is.

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I have not done much to speak of lately.  Most days are the same, just a little bit different.

My new job hasn’t been all that busy (although that will change soon enough).  Work can actually be better when you’re busy and a little boring when you aren’t.  I’ve learned some, but thus far its been slow, and to learn you have to have opportunities.  Most of the consultants are actually on site working most of the week, so the office in Atlanta is nearly empty,  some days its completely empty.  I’ve taken to working from home at times.  Why go in when no one is there?  I can do the same things from home and not have to drive.

I still haven’t played any sports; haven’t really gotten any exercise in over 4 months.  Oddly enough I haven’t gained or lost any weight, although I am very stiff all the time.   Physical therapy has gone well on my ankle; my wrist hasn’t made much progress.  Although I have been hurt many, many times, this is the first time I’ve been faced with a potentially “career” ending injury.  Its odd to think I may just not ever be able to play sports again and will end up with arthritis.  You can’t beat father time though.  Also, things do tend to heal if you give them long enough….but sometimes they don’t.

The house is the house.  I mentioned on the phone the other day that “house” has become a verb rather than a noun since it is something that always needs work.  Also, I completely suck at home repair and maintenance.  It is simply not as easy as nailing a few boards together and slapping on a coat of paint.  There are a trillion kinds of paint, and different spackles, and different primers, and its all so confusing.  Is anything just labeled “Paint” anymore?

I got an iPhone.  My 4 year old Nokia broke, and I had to rush to the Cingular store and buy a replacement immediately.  I don’t have a home phone; I learned its a scary proposition to simply disconnect and have no way for anyone to call you.  Its like you temporarily cease to exist (not that that many people call me, but its the thought).  The battery on my iPod had also gotten so it wouldn’t hold a charge for over an hour or so…… I just pooled the cost of a new phone with the cost of a new iPod, and bought the iPhone.

What do I think of it?  Its the best device I’ve ever bought…seriously.  Its awesome.  I have several complaints (the same ones that are all over the Internet:  recessed headphone jack, slow Internet, short battery life, no third part apps), but all in all….its simply amazing.  The reason the battery doesn’t last long is because you use it all the time.  It isn’t just a phone.  You really can surf the internet, use it as an iPod, etc.  The touch screen interface is one of those “I can’t imagine how I ever lived without it” kind of experiences.  I’ve used it to look up phone numbers, get driving directions, check my email, pass time reading stuff, goof off on Youtube.  Its great when you’re bored.   Oh yeah, you can also make phone calls on it.

I’ve heard from alot of my friends lately, girls and guys.  It seems there are only a few things that are really noteworthy to talk about in a person’s life…and it usually involves the opposite sex.  Two of my friends are divorced, one probably should be, another engages in a string of short, intense flings, and then goes to another country.  I have a few friends with normalish relationships; however, most of those are new friends.  All my long term friends (including myself I suppose) seem unable to make it work.  What does that say about me?

I’ve talked to a fair number of girls lately too.  I have single moms, serial daters, too hard to handles, a little lonelies….everyone in their late twenties to mid thirties has some kind of biological clock ticking…males included though not quite as bad as the women.  We were born to want the opposite sex so there is no harm in it; however, those that “have” the opposite sex mostly seem little happier.  Its a wash as far as I can tell except for those who happen to get lucky.  I don’t like making bets on things where I’m not relatively sure of the outcome.

For some reason right now I’m thinking about sleep, and how much of it I used to get…9 or 10 or more hours.  I feel tired a lot lately.  Maybe its the lack of exercise.  Part of me thinks I’m not sleeping well….even though I’m in bed 9 hours or so.  Maybe I’ll go see a sleep specialist?  That’s funny.  I’ve been to the doctor a good number of times in the past year or so.  I think I can safely say I’ve been more in the past year than I went ALL of my twenties.

For what its worth, that’s what I’m up to.  I think I’ll go to sleep now.  I have to jump on a call with India at 8 in the morning.

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  • It is better than coming home to a rental. There is a sense of increased comfort when everything is yours and you know that if you don’t like the way the kitchen is…you can tear it out and make it how you like. (Not that I’m likely to do that, but the thought is comfortable.)
  • Women LOVE houses. It is almost orgasmic for them to talk about a home, to talk about “fixing it up”, to add to it, even just to look at a home. When you own a home, you are instantly more attractive. Unlike the argument with penis size….bigger is definitely better when it comes to house size. I think there is some kind of nesting gene in women that make them coo over houses.
  • Also, since I rented a piece of someone’s house previously, as a homeowner I now know I won’t disturb anyone if I want to perform ancient rituals, practice witchcraft, walk around dressed up as a zebra, or anything else that might strike my fancy. The freedom is nice…but as they say: Freedom is not free.


  • It ain’t free. Spending money is a huge stressor. It doesn’t even matter if you can afford it. The act of spending money itself, when you know you work so hard for it, is stressful. I think this is a man thing as women seem much better about spending money when they know they can afford it…since many are even able to spend stress free when they can’t afford it.
  • It is a time vacuum. It is never “fixed”. A home is always under improvement. There is always something else you can do, until you’ve done it all…at which point what you originally did is out of fashion and so you must upgrade again, but unlike this season’s new clothing…home improvements are expensive.
  • It requires a new set of skills. I am not a plumber, electrician, carpenter, engineer, brick-layer, etc. Whoever said there are no more blue-collar jobs…think again. I know we’ll never outsource these jobs to India. Also, I can do some of my own work…which I’ve done. Replacing my toilet I thought: “I save alot of money doing it myself…but is it worth it if I leave on vacation, the seal breaks, and floods the second floor?”.
  • The asset itself is a stressor. Like a stock, its value can fluctuate…and as your biggest asset, it is stressful to think about losing it. What if I lost my job? What if my home were swept away in a flood (floods aren’t covered by homeowner’s insurance)? What if my policy is crap or I don’t have the right things covered? What if the entire housing market tanks (which we might see)? What if alien’s attack (is that covered)?
  • It will not make you any happier (not many things do). When you add up the items I’ve outlined above (and the ones I can’t think of right now), I bet I’m LESS happy with a home. You quickly acclimate to the fact that its your own place and you can walk around naked it you want. The freedom and comfort is nice…but again, does it outweigh the added stress? On the flip side, I will also acclimate to the stress eventually, and it will seem like its not even there. At least at that point I’ll have a house out of the deal. I remember when I first got out of graduate school all my student loan debt really got to me…to think about owing that much money when I didn’t even have a job. Now I don’t care. That debt will be with me until I’m retired.
  • A home is a warehouse. It stores inventory and YOU stock it. Just like a business, sitting inventory eats into your bottom line. It will nickel and dime you to death when you originally stock up on home wares: Dishes, vacuum cleaners, sets of linens, sets of trash cans, lamps, tools, towel racks, night stands, etc, etc. People say to me about this observation: “Yeah, but you do it once and then you always have it.” My thought, “So what? You can say the same thing about herpes.”

Maybe next time I’ll write about “eating out versus buying groceries”. It is a myth that it is cheaper to eat at home. I can demonstrate it mathematically.


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Or more to the point: does it make sense for me?

In a word, No.

I’ll explain why: A 150 to 200k dollar mortgage ends up between $1000 and $1200 bucks a month. Then you add on internet, gas, power, maintenance, cable, insurance, etc, etc, etc. The price is getting up there past $1500 bucks a month…not cheap for one person (me).

Currently, I pay a ridiculously low rent of about $500…that includes power, gas, internet, etc.

You can run the numbers on that as many times and as creatively as you like: Its a better financial decision for me to stay where I am…period.

But what about the tax write-off? After its all said and done that may lower my monthly payment by 100 to 150 bucks…no where making up the difference. Additionally, the vaunted tax break on mortgage interest really is no tax break at all, but simply avoids double taxation. How? Easy…you still pay tax on the value of the asset (property taxes). If you paid tax income tax on the mortgage interest and paid property taxes, you’d be taxed twice on the same thing. There is no real tax break for homes….simply the lack of being double taxed.

Additionally, even the mortgage interest you do write off is only eligible once you pass the standard deduction. If you can’t reach that, then there is no deduction at all.

But what about the equity? You don’t really get any in the first 5 years. Most of it is interest. There isn’t much difference between rent and interest.

But what about the small amount of equity you would gain? Yes…I would get a small amount. But I currently get another kind of equity each month paying rent that is very useful: Cash. The difference between my mortgage and rent ($1500 minus $500)….about $1000 bucks a month…is mine. I build a thousand bucks of equity every month by not buying a house. (In reality I spend some, but not all, of that. If I bought a house I would have to change my spending habits…which isn’t all bad).

But houses are good investments? A) Uhh…..not in my situation. B) I’m tired of hearing that “home values always go up”. The Titanic was unsinkable. The world was flat. Yeah, yeah, yeah. The fact is that they are dropping now. Yes…this very quarter.

But they go up in the long run? Uhh….in the long run we’re all dead. In the medium run though…not always. In Japan the market has been depressed for over a decade. In economics there is the concept of “no money left on the table”. If houses ALWAYS went up; everyone would buy them…thus driving up the prices. At some point the price becomes overinflated….and it must drop. That time might be now…or it might not, but to say “home values always go up”….that just isn’t true. In finance there is also the concept that “past performance is not an indicator of future performance”. I don’t care if housing has ALWAYS gone up in the past. That doesn’t mean it always will in the future.

Here are some other myths vs realities about home ownership.

Regardless, I’ve been looking pretty hard for something. I’ve seen just about every home and townhouse in the Smyrna area at this point. Why?

Well….if I’m staying in Atlanta, which seems to be the case since I’ve gotten a job I want….then I might actually LIKE to have a house. It may not be the best financial decision, but it is not a bad decision if that is what I want, and I can afford it.

I will say to those who buy a house because it is a “good investment”…you are speculating. If you’re going to speculate, you might as well buy stocks, or start a business, or even gamble. If you buy a house, fix it up, and try to sell it…you are speculating. You are running a small business. Nothing wrong with that…but lets call a spade a spade.

Buying a home is about wanting a home, and making a commitment to a place. If you start talking about doing it for the purpose of making money…then I hope you know about homes…because its the same concept as knowing about stocks, or a particular industry. The only thing that makes real estate speculating less risky than other types of investing is that there is less volatility. Home prices go up a little, or down a little…they don’t peak and trough nearly as quickly as stock prices (as a general rule).

Home buying also does not have the upside of stocks, or owning a business. A home remains a home, and the land remains much the same. The demand is much the same (unless there is a large, immediate influx of people with money to the region)…and the supply is much the same (it takes time to increase supply and it will never fluctuate wildly, unless there is an earthquake).

Stocks/owning your own business though…those can go from zero to a million bucks a month rather quickly. The building and real estate that the business sits on…its value will remain much the same, much as your house will; however, the value of the business, because it performs some other function that can increase in value (the service it provides)….can really appreciate quickly.

The price of a home can only appreciate as quickly as more people move to the area that have money (which increases demand)…or you happen to own a house that has features that are in vogue (which increases demand). Increases of supply (building more houses) decrease the value of your home.

But home prices do appreciate, right? Yes. For two main reasons (yes, this is a simplified explanation): 1) Inflation. Home prices largely track inflation. Since that runs at 3.5% a year or so…your home price does increase. But that is an illusory gain. 2) Increase in GDP: The economy itself (mostly productivity) grows at 3% or so a year. As total wealth increases, people are more able to afford homes. (You can argue, that its JUST inflation that matters. With a fixed money supply (notes in circulation), economic growth actually produces deflation, which would cause your home value to drop..even though it was actually worth the same amount in absolute terms.)

If homes aren’t really good investments, then why is everyone so high on them? 1) You can live in them. You can’t live in a stock certificate as an investment. That is hard to beat. 2) They tend to work out as investments. The reason being that they FORCE you to save money on the tail end of the loan when you’re building equity. Most people wouldn’t save any money otherwise, so it seems to work out for them. If they’d been more financially disciplined and invested the extra cash in the stock market…they might have come out ahead. But because no one does that, its useless to talk about. Home ownership IS a good investment for most people, because it is their ONLY significant outlay of cash that has any chance of appreciating…and it usually does…a little bit.

Lastly, yes….on the tail end of your loan, when you get to that point…its a good idea. You are essentially not paying ANY rent anymore. All the mortgage value goes to equity.

So…..will I buy a house? Yes…mostly likely, because I want one. It won’t be my best financial decision though. That would be to live in my parent’s house, never buy anything, save everything, invest heavily in the market, and wait to retire in a Central American country. I’d be living on the beach in Panama like a king (maids and all) by my early 40s…..and never work another day for the rest of my life.

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Today is the last day of my first job. It was actually several jobs over 3.5 years, but it was on the same large project: managing the tech side of a platform of services to give 120,000 employees of HCA (Hospital Corporation of America) their benefits.

Inanimate objects take on human qualities if you work with them long enough (which is why people name their cars). I have come, over the past few years, to view myself as sort of the “protector” of this large, old, bloated, taped up system.

As pathetic as it is to say, it is my friend in a way. I am able to “kick the jukebox” so to speak. Other people get their quarters eaten. Its like that old car that you have to turn the key and press the gas in a very specific way to get to start. I know all the quirks. They say it is broken. I say it works but you have to know how to use it.

The fact is it works pretty well considering you’re trying to anticipate and code for all possible behaviors of 120,000 people while making sure you don’t break anything else. We interface with HCA’s payroll, their HR system (hires, terminations, etc), offer 11 different benefit plans which require interfacing with upwards of 20 different benefit providers (aetna, cigna, prudential, etc). We run the call center (imagine trying to train people who make 10 dollars an hour in all the hundreds of nuanced rules that make up HCA’s benefits package). You run up against a well known truism of software development: You can’t code around idiots.

This doesn’t really mean they’re idiots (although some of them likely are). They (employees and benefits center reps) simply do things we never anticipate, and when something goes wrong and we can’t see it…..we have to wait until the employees identify themselves, at which point people get upset, especially if it happens to someone who works at HCA corporate. They get to scream directly at us, instead of using the call center or HR departments like everyone else.

The neat thing about this is that I got to see it develop. I went from knowing nothing and thinking it was all vastly complex and unknowable…literally being in awe of how quickly and accurately some people could make things happen… seeing all those people move on to other jobs and have other people think of me the same way. I now realize it isn’t all that complex or unknowable, it just takes a very long time to learn….which is a good thing. If it were quick and easy, I would make 7 bucks an hour.

So I say good-bye to my ailing system. Go reveal your secrets to someone else.

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